The overarching themes of acceleration and the technological convergence of IoT and AI are pushing value-propositions in B2C user experience, and problem-solving in B2B vertical market niches. Interestingly, at the same time as IoT and AI technologies converge the geopolitics of nation-states is trending towards a divergence in componentry manufacturing. At the uneasy nexus of these tensions are various regulatory movements, especially around AI.
On the one hand, user design considerations in B2C are pushing ‘core’ IoT concepts like low-power consumption and connectivity further backstage. On the other hand, independent software vendors (ISVs) driving go-to-market campaigns and bringing consumer-style ease of use to enterprises are aligning with innovative channel players offering vertical-specific expertise to reawaken IoT at the edge.
At CES, the promise of cloud independent AI edge processing included an announcement by Ambient Scientific, specializing in AI processor semi-conductors with offices in Santa Clara, CA with its first AI System on Chip (SoC) GPX10 for portable, battery-powered devices. The GPX10 is manufactured using TSMC’s 40 nm technology with, says Satish Kutty M. Head of Strategy and Business Development, an innovative blend of analog and digital computing. “Essentially what an ARM processor achieves in 32K cycles, we do in one cycle thanks to analog matrix multiplication,” said Saharsh Singhania, Vice President of Product Marketing at Ambient Scientific. Such optimizations often include architectural enhancements such as moving compute nearer to memory on the chip.
A comparable newer firm, Aspinity, in Pittsburgh, PA, is also working to optimize low-power AI chip edge capabilities. Examples of a uses case for the Aspinity ultra-low power chip could include powering sensors in automobiles when they are not running. Of note, in March 2023, Aspinity announced the integration of its AML Application Board with Renesas’s Quick-Connect IoT Platform highlighting the ultra-low power profile. In parallel news, Olivier Pauzet, Executive VP of Marketing and Strategy with Sequans said that the acquisition of the 5G/4G cellular IoT chips and modules maker by semiconductor supplier Renesas is moving to finalization in the next few weeks. In a broader sense, the merger places Tokyo-based Renesas at a nexus of IoT connectivity and microprocessor capability and with a neutral location during a period of geopolitical concerns over microprocessor and IoT infrastructure componentry.
Another newer AI chip firm, Enchargeai.com, founded by Naveen Verma, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Princeton University, is also oriented towards low power requirements in industrial IoT and other applications. Verma noted analog compute is more powerful and efficient than digital but “all approaches to analog compute thus far have been noisy.” Verma described his firm’s innovation for analog in-memory computing as “rather than variation-prone semiconductor devices (like transistors, RRAM, MRAM, FLASH), it uses integrated capacitors, that only depend on geometry,” which can be controlled well using advanced Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) manufacturing.
In B2C markets, core IoT technologies were pushed backstage as evidenced by Amazon’s presence at The Venetian during CES 2024. There, automated living rooms and kitchens were laid out Ikea showroom style with nary a sensor in sight. Moreover, at CES Amazon announced the broadening of Matter Casting as a non-proprietary home networking standard to support content from iOS and Android devices. In short, the users’ experience is spotlighted with technology fading further behind the curtain. As such, design thinking results in making the technology of IoT invisible.
IoT technologies spread far beyond the confines of the IoT Infrastructure section of the CES North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention center. The backstage invisibility of IoT and connectivity in B2B markets wasn’t as stark, but it was palpable. For example, Asaf Gigi, VP of Marketing at global IoT connectivity provider, floLIVE reiterated the all-in-one ease of experience of its 40 integrated global core networks for enterprise customers.
The spread of IoT capabilities throughout CES 2024 offers a unique snapshot of the maturity of IoT itself. There were specific IoT showroom categories at CES 2024, like ‘IoT Infrastructure’ but firms with IoT capabilities were spread throughout the event’s showrooms. In fast-moving technology fields like IoT, technological innovations often precede mature value propositions in markets. However, the spread of IoT capabilities throughout as a ‘layer’ at CES 2024 suggests the gap between IoT technological innovations and actual market adoption of offerings with IoT capabilities is vanishing. As such, with IoT innovation and market value propositions taken as 'givens' new value-creation factors, like design, emerge. For example, at Ambient Photonics, Chris Turkstra, Chief Product Officer, pointed to innovative form factors for keyboards and mice as well new orientations for IoT devices made possible by the firm’s two-sided indoor/low light energy harvesting solar cells.
In a similar vein, Wiliot’s energy-harvesting IoT Pixels, said Steve Statler, VP of Marketing, enable sensor inputs for tracking supply chain carbon, temperature, humidity, and the like, at a cost of pennies. Wiliot shipped 100 million postage-stamp sized IoT Pixel devices in 2023, said Statler. The company aims to grow that number, said Statler, but as importantly to accelerate low-power connectivity development standards enabling trillions of connected and intelligent things in food, retail supply chains and other markets. If traction is destiny, the admission of Wiliot’s ambient IoT Pixels and Visibility Platform to the Sustainability category in TIME’s list of the Best Inventions of 2023 is a solid step.
In summary, accelerating innovations in IoT and AI are reshaping user experiences in B2C and problem-solving approaches in B2B vertical markets. In the B2C realm, core IoT capabilities like low-power consumption and connectivity are fading into the woodwork. In some sense, design factors and the capacity to reshape a market vertical, like retail, are taking precedent as the ‘Wow’-factor of IoT tech innovation recedes. On the B2B front, ISVs are driving consumer-style ease of use in enterprises and aligning with innovative channel players proffering expertise to industry verticals.
Further, where IoT spread as a layer at CES, developments in AI processing capabilities pointed to the potential rejuvenation of edge IoT and extension new forms of value creation within vertical markets. Broadly speaking, the integration of AI with IoT is increasing the reach of digital transformation in B2C and B2B. At CES 2024, this integration was prominently featured by the emphasis on user experience, design, and, in the near future, efforts to drive value in vertical markets at the edge as IoT and AI converge.